There is a common view today that Prince William hates the press and, given his experiences, it would be surprising if he didn’t. But while he did hate the newspapers for many years, both before and after his mother’s death, it’s no longer so straightforward.
He knows enough about the institution of monarchy to realise that if it is to have a future it needs to be seen to be relevant — which means being visible. He still hates the paparazzi, but he reads everything and remembers who writes what about him (unlike his father, who gave up reading anything but The Times years ago because they made him so cross). William will engage with the media in his way. He is extremely wary but utterly determined to remain in control. Control in all things is very important to William.
In June 1998, 10 months after his mother died and a week before his 16th birthday, he had his first meeting with Camilla Parker Bowles, his father’s mistress. Camilla came out saying, “I need a drink.” But it had been remarkably easy — William was friendly, Camilla was sympathetic and sensitive.
Nearly a month later Rebekah Wade called Sandy Henney, who was Prince Charles’s press secretary. Wade (now Rebekah Brooks) was deputy editor of The Sun and a friend of Mark Bolland, Charles’s deputy private secretary, known as Blackadder by the young princes.
Wade said she’d heard about Camilla’s meeting with William, Henney says: “I said, ‘Rebekah, I’m not going to deny it but the shit’s going to hit the proverbial fan when the young man finds out about this because he will think that someone’s been spying on him and anything we’ve done in terms of trying to persuade him that the media have a place etc . . . it ain’t going to work. I'm really pissed off with this’. So she said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘Can I have 24 hours? I want to talk to William’. ‘You’ve got it,’ she said, ‘and you can write the story’.”
Henney told William what had happened. “I knew he wouldn’t like it because he would see it as intrusion, as I did — and he didn’t trust the prince’s office at the best of times. I didn’t like it and I thought it was a cynical way of using William — if William’s okay with Camilla then the public should be okay with her too. But I had to deal with this young man, so I said, ‘We can’t win this battle but we can lose it slightly more gracefully. The story’s going to go in but we have the opportunity to put it from our point of view’. At the end of the day I said to William, ‘This is what we’re going to say, are you happy?’ ‘Well, I’m not happy,’ he said, ‘but I understand’. And I thought, how grown-up. He could have gone into a real teenage boy sulk but no — he said, ‘I understand’ and accepted it.”
“Mark [Bolland] had incredible contacts,” Henney says, “and balls to do some of the things he did. Whether or not you agreed with some of his methods, he got results. He was incredible fun to work with . . . but, Christ, he had an incisive brain, no wonder the kids called him Blackadder; but scary sometimes. My view of him was that he was working primarily for Mrs Parker Bowles and then the prince.
“He wanted to make Mrs Parker Bowles acceptable; but you can’t treat the institution of monarchy as individuals, you need to treat it as a whole.”
Maintaining a good relationship with the media was vital — for every story that made it into the newspapers, many more were suppressed — and much of the time it was good old-fashioned horse-trading. “We’d say, ‘Okay, you’ve got that but let’s go with this, if you don’t say anything about that’,” Henney says.
“There was a lot of negotiation like that going on,” agrees Colleen Harris, who was her deputy. “There were many times when we managed to protect William and Harry and keep them out of the media when they were up to mischievous things. Nothing terrible, nothing criminal, but things they wouldn’t have wanted the media to write about.”
At the beginning of William’s second term at St Andrews University, in January 2002, the News of the World (with Wade now at the helm) ran an exclusive story under the headline “Harry’s drug shame”. Harry, then 17, had confessed he had been smoking cannabis and drinking underage and after hours in the Rattlebone Inn, a pub near Highgrove, Charles’s house in Gloucestershire.
According to the story, Harry’s behaviour had come to light in November 2001 and his father had taken him for a short sharp shock to a drug rehabilitation centre in south London to spend a day talking to recovering drug addicts. It was another of Bolland’s attempts to repair the Prince of Wales’s reputation: Charles had masterfully handled the scenario that every parent dreads.
Bolland’s release of the story to the News of the World was a skilful piece of damage limitation. During the summer the newspaper had published a photograph of a very spaced-out Harry in a nightclub in Spain. It had kept a watch on him ever since, spoken to associates and compiled damning evidence of far more serious behaviour than that described in its Rattlebone story. Some of it had been going on in the basement of Highgrove, which Charles had done up for the boys as a den. They called it Club H and had wild parties there with their friends, playing loud techno music until the early hours. Wade had rung her friend Bolland to alert him to what the newspaper had and he brokered a deal that saved the young prince’s bacon and left his father smelling of roses.
What incensed Harry — and William too, in defence of his brother — was that his visit to the rehab centre had had nothing to do with his own behaviour; nor had he gone with his father. He had been there in June or July of 2001 with Mark Dyer, a former Guards officer who had a “big brother” role with the princes. The News of the World did not have the cannabis story until August or September of that year.
“Harry really resented the way he was made to look bad so his father could look good,” says a friend. “He understood why it happened and I don’t think he blamed his father, but the idea that Harry had gone to a rehab centre [the] year before because Prince Charles had seen the way things were going is a blatant load of bollocks. Prince Charles didn’t have any idea what his son was up to. It was PR panic and spin and he [Harry] really resents that he was made to take the rap for that.”
This same friend says: “The idea of Harry being the wild one and William the good one is nonsense. They were both wild. Harry was just the one that got caught.”
Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King © Penny Junor 2012
Sixty years and hardly a slip.